The wait is finally over! Hope everyone has stocked up the fridge, pre-warned the loved ones and crash tackled the mailman because the Rugby World Cup is finally here. The Wallabies begin their campaign in familiar fashion to 2015, taking on Fiji. On that occasion, the Aussies ran out 28-13 victors in a contest that set up their famous run to the final.
However, this is a much improved Fiji team, having beat three tier-one nations since their last contest in 2017. The flying Fijians will be coming into this match full of confidence after a positive 2019 campaign and coach John McKee will have them ready to cause an upset.
The Wallabies got off to a slow start in 2019, losing 35-17 to the Springboks at Ellis Park in a sloppy performance that saw the side waste possession and opportunities. The side would bounce back the following week, with a more convincing performance, defeating the Pumas 20-16 in a game dominated by a committed defensive effort and an impressive scrum. However, their best performance would be saved for their following game, putting in a clinical performance to dominate the All Blacks 47-26 at Optus Stadium.
Unfortunately, this dream turned into a nightmare, with the All Blacks dominating from the opening whistle the following week, shutting out the Wallabies 36-0 in a disappointing performance with the Bledisloe on the line. They would bounce back in their final warmup game, with a second-string side defeating Samoa 34-15.
Fiji had a mixed 2018 international season, with wins against France, Samoa and Georgia followed up by loses to Tonga and Scotland. This was followed up with a tied series against the Maori All Blacks to start 2019, highlighted by a 27-10 to the Flying Fijians in Suva, their first win over the Maori side in 60 years.
They opened their Pacific Nations Cup campaign a fortnight later with a narrow 34-21 loss to Japan, rebounding from this with victories over Canada (38-13) and Samoa (10-3). They finished off their preparations with a 29-19 win over Tonga.
The Wallabies have gone for a similar team to the one that defeated New Zealand in Perth, with the main exception being the returning David Pocock. Pocock slots into the blindside role to partner Michael Hooper as the two flankers, with Lukhan Salakaia-Loto reverting to the bench. Other notable changes include Allan Alaalatoa slotting into tighthead prop, with Sekope Kepu replacing Taniela Tupou on the bench and Nic White winning the race to the starting 9 jersey to partner Christian Lealiifano in the halves.
Fiji has named their strongest side possible, with the most shocking move being the shift of Semi Radradra to the wing. Whilst that wouldn’t stun rugby league fans, Radradra has excelled for Bourdeaux playing outside centre so it came it a real surprise to see him out on the wing. Stade Francais back Waisea Nayacalev will slot into outside centre, with Rebels halfback recruit Frank Lomani and former Waratahs and Crusaders playmaker Ben Volavola selected in the halves.
Rory Arnold v Leone Nakarawa
With the selection of two openside flankers in the Wallabies set-up, Rory Arnold needs to step up and take over at set-piece time. The Wallabies finished up with the best lineout in the Rugby Championship, with a success rate of 90.3 per cent and Arnold was one of the key reasons for this. He has been one of the Wallabies best this year and he needs to maintain this form and continually take the ball over the advantage line if they are to flourish.
He comes up against Leone Nakarawa, who was named European Player of the Year last season after an impressive campaign which saw the 31-year-old lead the Parisians the Champions Cup final. Nakarawa will be a handful for the Wallabies, with the combination of speed, strength and height a nightmare for any side. The ‘Octopus’ terrorised the Wallabies in their last game in 2017 and he will need to back this up if the Fijians want to pull off an upset.
Marika Korobiete v Semi Radradra
This is a fun match-up, with both wingers having played international rugby league for the opposition nation. Korobiete, the Fijian league star turned Wallabies star has been one of the best for Australia in 2019, with his barnstorming runs and explosive speed setting up his career year for the Rebels before he solidified himself as the number one winger in the country during the Rugby Championship.
He comes up against Radradra, the Kangaroo turned Fijian star, who has made a name for himself since transferring to the good side in 2017. Radradra played a key part in their sparkling 2018 international campaign, scoring a try in their historic win over France. Both wingers will look to take the game on with their explosive speed and strength, with the ability to change the momentum of the contest with a single run.
Numbers that matter (Thanks to Opta Sports)
1954:The last time the Wallabies were beaten by Fiji, with the Aussies unbeaten in the last 17 games (W:16, D:1)
37-14: The score-line the last time that the Wallabies played Fiji in 2017 at AAMI Park.
1987: The last time that the Wallabies lost back-to-back World Cup games
93%: The record of Australia in the group stages (26/28) with New Zealand the only nation better
29: The number of turnovers by David Pocock at the Rugby World Cup, more than any other player in the World Cup’s history
36%:Win percentage of Fiji at the World Cup (W:10, L:18)
I think that the Wallabies will be a dog fight to start their World Cup campaign, with Fiji looking a much-improved side from two years ago. However, I think that Australia’s experience and the combination of Hooper and Pocock will be the difference, getting the Wallabies off to the perfect start.
Match Prediction: Wallabies by 10
Bold Prediction: Samu Kerevi 1 try/Man of the Match
Wallabies (15-1): Kurtley Beale, Reece Hodge, James O’Connor, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Christian Lealiifano, Nic White, Isi Naisarani, Michael Hooper (c), David Pocock, Rory Arnold, Izack Rodda, Allan Ala’alatoa, Tolu Latu, Scott Sio
Reserves: Jordan Uelese, James Slipper, Sekopu Kepu, Adam Coleman, Lurkham Salakaia-Loto, Will Genia, Matt To’omua, Dane Haylett-Petty
Fiji (15-1): Kini Murimurivalu, Josua Tuisova, Waisea Nayacalevu, Lepani Botia, Semi Radradra, Ben Volavola, Frank Lomani, Viliame Mata, Peceli Yato, Dominiko Waqaniburotu (c), Leone Nakarawa, Tevita Cavubati, Peni Ravai, Samuel Matavesi, Campese Ma’afu
Reserves: Tuvere Vugakoto, Eroni Mawi, Manasa Saulo, Tevita Ratuva, Mosese Voka, Nikola Matawalu, Alivereti Veitokani, Vereniki Goneva
Date: Saturday September 21
Venue: Sapporo Dome, Sapporo
Kick-off: 2:45 pm AEST (1:45pm local time)
Where to Watch: Fox Sports 3 (Channel 503), RWC 4K (499) and Channel 10 (Free To Air)
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant Refree: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)